“That’s Hockey Baby”

A preview of the upcoming 2021-22 NHL Season

Kyle Ward, Writer

With the start of the NHL season around the corner, it may be a good time to preview where every team stands going into the first normal, full season since 2018-19.

 

The Title Contenders:

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The reigning two time champs come off of an offseason in which they had to shed their entire third line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, as well as losing Tyler Johnson to shed cap space just to be able to field a team. While they downgraded with their depth, they still added veterans like Corey Perry to try and replace the production that was lost. Tampa will still be title contenders, but the road to a third title in a row will be much tougher this time around.

 

New York Islanders:

While the Islanders may not have the greatest regular season this year, that’s not what they’re built for, they’re built for playoff hockey. They kept the people they needed to play their style of defensive, smart hockey. They did lose Jordan Eberle to the expansion draft, but that gave them the space to resign Bailey and Beuvillier, as well as sign Zach Parise to fill out the spot left open by Eberle. This team will once again be able to wreak havoc once they get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Colorado Avalanche: 

The Avs brought the band back together to be able to go at it for years to come, giving both Cale Makar and captain Gabriel Landeskog big deals to come back and chase that championship. As long as Nazem Kadri doesn’t get suspended early on in the playoffs again, they should be favorites to win the Western Conference.

 

Vegas Golden Knights:

Vegas comes off of an embarrassingly swift defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, licking their wounds and looking towards this season with a very similar roster to the one that lost in the playoffs, but with notable edition Evgeni Dadonov. The biggest loss from this offseason is trading Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago for the equivalent of nothing..

Playoff Contenders:

 

Carolina Hurricanes:

While letting Dougie Hamilton go in favor of notably bad locker room face in Tony DeAngelo is let’s just say……. questionable, as well as their choice to move on from Alex Nedelkovic after a solid year in Carolina last year in favor of an injury prone tandem of Frederik Anderson and Anti Raanta. The Canes still have a solid team to make a run with, flush with defensive depth and skillful offense to put in front of whoever will be in net on any given night. 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs:

After last years ultimate humiliation at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs streak of not making it out of the first round moves to eighteen years. Despite this, the Leafs made minor changes to the supporting cast rather than changing the core, signing guys like Kurtis Gabrield, Josh Ho-Sang, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie and Michel Bunting. Their goal this season should be to at the minimum a first round victory, but the ultimate goal should still be the Stanley Cup.

 

Florida Panthers:

Florida may have overpaid to keep their homegrown talent in Sunrise, those were talents that kept them as top contenders last year, while it may be better just to focus on winning their first playoff series in the twenty-first century, they still do have aspirations of holding the cup in victory. 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins:

The Penguins will start this season without their two star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Which could be a big factor in whether they or another Metropolitan team makes the playoffs, that being said they do still have a solid chance to just sneak in to a wild card spot in a tough division.

 

Calgary Flames:

The Flames have and have had the talent for years to be serious playoff contenders and to do something in them. But for whatever reason, they have never been able to put it together with this core, but they brought back those pieces to try at it one more time, and it’s a realistically good shot with the weak Pacific Division. The addition of Blake Coleman should also help push this core over the edge with his grit and veteranosity. 

 

Washington Capitals:

The perennial regular season powerhouse in the Washington Capitals will likely be good in the regular season once again, the questions will rise when it comes to the playoffs, the contracts previously handed out, particularly the massive deal given to winger TJ Oshie, got in the way of them bringing back expired contracts or signing new depth players to help this teams longevity come playoff time. This lack of depth prevents them from being in the title contenders category.

 

Philadelphia Flyers:

The Flyers fell off big time last season, having the worst defense in the NHL and their franchise goaltender had a career low save percentage. They definitely brought in guys to attempt to fix this, trading Nolan Patrick away for defensive veteran Ryan Ellis and, rightly or wrongly trading a first rounder for Rasmus Ristolainen. They will have it tough just like everyone else in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll have to work extra hard as they don’t have the superstar talent to carry them. 

 

Seattle Kraken:

While the Kraken have never played together before, the roster they were able to put together looks pretty solid, and a playoff contender in the Pacific Division. If they can build around Philip Grubaur, the Kraken have a good chance to win any game even against quality competition.

 

Winnipeg Jets:

The Jets were another casualty to the Montreal machine in last years playoffs, but they did get to sweep Conor McDavid’s Oilers on their way there. This year the Jets are in a good position to make the playoffs, but doing anything in them could be a struggle. They mostly just brought the gang back to make another run, still having Schiefle, Ehlers and Lowry along with other talented forwards on the top six. 

 

Edmonton Oilers:

As good as the Oilers will likely be, they still have the issue of making a run in the playoffs with the lack of forward depth surrounding Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Ken Holland also made some questionable moves this offseason, giving up assets for a thirty-seven year old Duncan Kieth, giving a massive eight year deal to gritty former Maple Leaf Zach Hyman, and trading young budding defenseman Ethan Bear to Carolina for Warren Foegle. The Hyman signing will likely help the team but the long term payout of an eight year deal for Hyman is likely lacking based off his play style. 

 

Vancouver Canucks:

While the widely disliked trade of trading salary relief after this season for one of the worst contract in hockey in Oliver Ekman-Larrson may have been a negative decision long term, getting Conor Garland does help them along with Ekman-Larrson finally getting a much needed change of scenery. Along with the hope of no covid outbreak like last season, the Canucks are hoping to make it back to the playoffs to try and make a run.

 

Los Angeles Kings:

The front office in LA seem to think they can make one last run with the pieces still remaining from the 2012 and 2014 cup teams. They brought in Phillip Danault coming off of a brilliant postseason in which he shut down star forward after star forward. The questions surrounding the Pacific Division could help them get into the playoff race.

 

Chicago Blackhawks:

Stan Bowman, in a desperate attempt to cover over the lawsuits against him and the team, has forgotten the idea of a potential rebuild, going all in to grab star pieces in Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth Jones and Tyler Johnson. They should be in the playoff hunt in the Central Division, but a run for a title seems out of the question.

 

Minnesota Wild:

A franchise long dormant of excitement, was arguably the most exciting team in the league last year, and that is all due to former fifth round pick Karill Kaprisov, coming in and lighting it up for the Wild, making the team around him better. They will be in the hunt for that wildcard spot, but they could be overtaken by a team like Dallas or Chicago.

 

Dallas Stars:

The Stars will be revitalized if Tyler Seguin can stay healthy this year, a playoff spot open for the taking in the Central Division, and if they can stay healthy, they will likely be the ones to take it.

 

Boston Bruins:

Boston didn’t make many changes to the roster but they brought pieces back like Taylor Hall in order to make another run at the cup.

 

St. Louis Blues: 

The Blues have a ton of question marks this year. How will Vladamir Tarasenko play if he even plays for them? Will the team bounce back after getting handed a sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs? Should the team just get ahead of the curb and trade the core? These questions are yet to be answered but they’ll be in the hunt for a playoff spot at the very least with the team they currently have.

 

New York Rangers:

Despite the fact the Rangers are still a solid team, their team objectively got worse just to add grit to defend against the wrath of Tom Wilson, trading away skilled second line winger Pavel Buchnevich, and then trading a third round pick to get veteran enforcer Ryan Reeves from Vegas. As well as getting guys like Barclay Goodrow and Patrick Nemeth to fight against Tom Wilson when they play the Caps opening night.

 

Montreal Canadiens:

Le Habitants will have a rough time of it making it into the playoffs, like it is almost every year, if they make the playoffs, they can do some major damage. While the loss of Jesperi Kotkaniemi hurts their Center depth, it looks like they’ll be experimenting with Jonathan Drouin down the middle to solve that complication. The real hit to their playoff chances is the loss of Shea Weber for at minimum the season but at worst, the rest of his career, losing a leader and defensive stalwart will definitely damage their already grim hopes of the Stanley Cup they were so close to last season.

 

The Bottom of the Barrell:

 

Nashville Predators:

The Predators have started their transition into a rebuild, shipping off Victor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis and losing Pekka Rinne to retirement. They will look to the younger pieces and to build around new starting goaltender Jusse Saros.

 

New Jersey Devils:

While the Devils are definitely trending in the right direction with signings like Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Bernier and Tomas Tatar, it’s just not enough in the Metropolitan Division to have a chance at the playoffs. But luckily enough for them their forward group is extremely young, which gives them time to wait for the contenders in the division to age and wither, and to allow themselves to take over some point in the next few years.

 

Buffalo Sabres:

What are the Buffalo Sabres? If not a disheveled mess that won’t let their superstar forward to get the surgery he wants, their a dumpster fire with bad contracts and underdeveloped young guys scattered over their lineup. They would need more than a miracle to be in playoff contention, and will likely be an island for waiver claims throughout the season, and taking on bad contracts to acquire picks to get talent down the line.

 

Arizona Coyotes:

Arizona did exactly what the Sabres should have attempted this offseason, trade away players who need a change of scenery, and take on bad contracts for picks. The Coyotes still have a long way to go, but they are at least making moves that make sense.

 

Detroit Red Wings:

It does look like this year will be thrown to the waste side in order to get another premier talent in the fold, in a few years the Wings may be back as a perennial playoff team once again. Particularly the move to bring in Alex Nedelkovic could prove to be a big pickup down the road.

 

Ottawa Senators:

If the Senators were in the Western Conference they’d have a much better chance at the playoffs than they do, they have a good young team going but it’s just not enough yet, as some pieces still need to develop fully in order for this team to contend.

 

San Jose Sharks:

What can a team do as a rebuilder that can’t get value for their veteran players? Sit there and wait for them to retire? This is the quarrel of a team that locked up the core to massive long term contracts into their late thirties. Not to mention the massive distraction of Evander Kane’s gambling debts and a chance of him getting suspended for betting on games. This team is a mess with veterans that don’t want to rebuild, but they have no choice because they can’t move due to their contracts and their not good enough to contend.

 

Anaheim Ducks:

The Ducks made it clear their plan was to tank when their only move this offseason was to bring back team legend Ryan Getzlaf on a one year deal. They’ll likely wait for development and high picks to restore their former glory.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Despite the Jackets not looking to be a competitive team this coming year, they were able to get out of having to give Seth Jones a massive extension, and they got good value for him. This should help them to develop young pieces and push towards the playoffs in the future.